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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 29 Release: The Loire, Mendoza, Riesling and more

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I start by admitting not having tasted the entire release this time due to travel conflicts; but I made a point to capture the Loire wines as this region is very much on the cutting edge (again); and the Mendoza spotlight – a region which is on the edge of becoming boringly blunt with too many monolithic wines. Elsewhere I have focused on rieslings befitting the season.

Vintages Loire Valley release is a snapshot in time of one of the have-not regions of France that is struggling for respect. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big white wine fan and the Loire is something of a spiritual centre in the world of racy, mineral driven whites and cool climate viticulture.  And it is very trendy among sommeliers at the moment. But on the wider stage the Loire is still arguably France’s fifth table wine region –after Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Alsace. As such it is harder to get the prices that can finance revolutionary quality upgrade that is utterlyDomaine Sylvain Gaudron Vouvray Demi Sec 2006necessary in today’s hyper-competitive, post-recessionary market.  I have just returned from Bordeaux where I could see and taste the disparity among those properties shooting for the brass ring, and those limping along on reputation alone. And from the selection in the May 29 release the Loire is no different. There are some wonderfully bright, pure chenins and sauvignons that both quench modern tastes and carry their appellations proudly. Don’t miss the great value chenin Domaine Sylvain Gaudron 2006 Vouvray and the fine sauvignon Jean-Michel Sorbe 2008 Reuilly.  But there are also a few troubled throwbacks to the days of yore – earthy, mushroomy, sulphured and papery. Two may have been marginally cork tainted so a re-taste is required.  What surprises me about such wines is that they slip through Vintages buyers, I suspect shoe-horned into the line-up by price considerations.

Achaval Ferrer Malbec 2008The Mendoza (Argentina) selection is very mixed in terms of quality, with one terrific wine in Achaval-Ferrer 2008 Malbec. The new up-market Luca wines by industry leader Catena are very good too (88-90pts), with rich fruitiness from grapes purchased in several Andean foothill sites. They are big and dense but I wish they weren’t quite so obvious, vanilla-sweet and heavy handed, a trait I am picking up throughout the Catena range from Alamos to Alta.  The most exciting Argentine wine actually is Quara 2007 Barrique Aged Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon from the northern Cafayate Valley. And by the way, several of the new Argentine wines, including Luca, are in over-weight bottles. They are trying to impress, but do they reveal some lack of self-confidence in their wine by overcompensating with their packaging? I for one am always sceptical of the practice. Not to mention that they go very much against the current green trend to lighter glass.

Vriesenhof Kallista 2004While in Bordeaux last week, after about five years absence, I was reminded about how integral wine maturity is in their purchasing and drinking decisions. In markets like Canada where we are inundated with ripe young reds from all over the world, we have grown used to drinking any vintage at young age. So it was good to re-acquaint with the pleasures of drinking mature cabernet-merlot based reds (2001 is widely being consumed now), and to bring that appreciation back to current releases here both from Bordeaux and South Africa. Château Beaumont 2006 Haut-Médoc is not “old” on paper but it nicely captures that cedary, woodsy character and elegance of good old fashioned Bordeaux.  And from South Africa, whose red wines are modelled more on Bordeaux than any New World country, don’t miss the power, complexity and depth of Vriesenhof 2004 Kallista from Stellenbosch.  I regret not having tried Château 1999 La Croix Chaigneau from Lalande de Pomerol, but it will certainly be fully mature.

Kruger Rumpf Riesling Kabinett 2008I have always considered May-June the ideal time to drink riesling. There is a warmth and mellowness and freshness in the air that catches the grape’s spirit so well, especially those rieslings built around charm and delicacy and a kiss of sweetness instead of bone rattling acidity. Two in this release catch the mood very well, one each from Germany and Niagara. I have always liked the gentle, delicate, seldom-seen rieslings of Germany’s Nahe region, a spur valley of the Mosel.  Kruger-Rumpf 2008 Riesling Kabinett Munsterer Kapellenberg is a great example. From Niagara Henry Of Pelham 2008 Reserve Off-Dry Riesling Short Hills Bench shows lovely peach-apricot and honeyed fruit, class and charm. And it is great value.

Domaine Calvet Thunevin Cuvée Constance 2007And finally, the one bargain I will be buying for myself is Domaine Calvet-Thunevin 2007 Cuvée Constance, an old vine grenache/carignan from the Vin De Pays Des Côtes Catalanes in southern France.  This region near the Spanish border continues to hit home runs.


See all my reviews for the May 29th release here.

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of over 100 wines in this release

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Vintages Preview May 29th – Sultry Argentinean Malbec and Loire’s Dangerously Drinkable Sauvignon Blanc – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

A quick glance at the most recent sales statistics at the LCBO that I could find (2008) tells a remarkable story. Australia was down by 5.3% by volume, while France slid by 8.8%. Italy gained 1%, and Ontario sales were up 2.6%. The US, driven mainly by California, was up an impressive 11.9%, and Argentina, well, wait for this: 69.6%! It’s no secret that this incredible gain in market share by volume was driven by one singular phenomenon called Fuzion, the wine that took everyone by surprise, including Alex Patinios, Ontario’s importer of Familia Zuccardi (the producer of Fuzion) and the LCBO supply chain management team, who could not even remotely keep up with demand. Fuzion is the single most successful brand ever imported into Ontario, and it’s a wine from Argentina.

The details of Fuzion’s success will be the stuff of marketing courses for years to come, but the reality behind the explosive hit in my view is simply the combination of unfathomable factors that come together unexpectedly to create a perfect storm of success. Among these you must consider that Argentina is a relative newcomer to the export scene and therefore the latest ‘hot’ thing. The Argentine peso is low, labour inexpensive, economies of scale well in place, and therefore the wines arrive in our market at very attractive prices. Image plays an important role: Argentina as a country has a rather exotic, mysterious air, at once remote yet familiar, with the image of gauchos roasting sides of beef on the pampas with an Astor Piazzola tango provocatively filling in the background sound track. Or maybe it’s the image of Maradona hoisting the FIFA world Cup (probably that’s just me). And then there’s the wine. It’s pretty good. It responds in bespoke fashion to the modern wine drinkers’ demands for ripe, rich, luscious reds with generous alcohol and an affinity for oak flavours. And Argentina’s flagship variety is not the same old cabernet or merlot, it’s malbec, another stroke in the exotic column.

But drinkers mature and the market evolves, and the world of Ontario wine is no longer just a bottle of con-Fuzion. Argentina has been able to ‘expand the offering’ to use marketing parlance, and has shipped to our shores a range of premium and ultra-premium malbecs that have an annoying habit (to other producing nations) of over-delivering on the price-pleasure scale even at the upper end of pricing. And it’s not just about malbec exclusive any longer. 6 out of the top 13 wines that I reviewed are made from malbec to be sure, but you’ll also discover the exotically aromatic white torrontés (a cross between the obscure listán grape from the Canary Islands and Muscat), that tastes like a dry muscat jacked up on Red Bull, as well as classy chardonnay and well balanced and flavourful cabernets.

Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec 2007Sadly absent from this feature are some of the other intriguing grapes that give a nod back to the Italian origins of many of Argentina’s citizens and winemakers like northern Italy’s bonarda, or other nations’ contributions such as excellent syrah, tempranillo and some nifty pinot noirs, especially from the cooler area of Patagonia in southern Argentina. And we haven’t even touched on blends, another areFlechas De Los Andes Gran Corte 2006a of increasing excitement. So use this release as your stepping stone beyond the madding crowd of Fuzion into the forum of premium Argentine wine. Start with this week’s number one smart buy, the 2007 LUIGI BOSCA RESERVA MALBEC Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza 91pts $17.95 ***. Then perhaps check out the very decent 2006 ZUCCARDI Q CABERNET SAUVIGNON Mendoza 88pts $18.95 ** from the makers of Fuzion, or start the night with a very refined, high altitude, almost Chablis-like 2008 CATENA CHARDONNAY Mendoza  88pts $19.95 **. If you’re still romanced by Argentina, step up to the top notch blend 2006 FLECHAS DE LOS ANDES GRAN CORTE Mendoza 92pts $38.95 *** for a real treat.

At the other end of the spectrum, the partner for the Argentine tango in this release is France’s Loire valley. Stylistically (and even geographically) these two vine growing areas couldn’t be further apart – a safe bet by the LCBO to divvy up the thematic spotlight. In contrast to Argentina’s richness and ripeness, the Loire, whether at the western end in Muscadet country or 800 kilometers inland in the Central Loire vineyards, where sauvignon blanc reigns supreme in AOCs like Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, is all about leanness, delicacy, and vibrancy. It’s the incongruous violin solo in the sultry tango. Both reds and whites share a common affinity for the table, making fine companions for a wide range of foods from rabbit rilletes to oysters to crayfish in beurre blanc to a plate of charcuterie.

I find these wines, Domaine Sylvain Gaudron Vouvray Demi Sec 2006when well made, to be infinitely, even dangerously drinkable, with saliva-inducing acidity that keeps you reaching for another sip in a virtuous circle of refreshment. My top pick goes to the 2008 DOMAINE LECOMTE QUINCY AC 90pts $18.95 ***, a classic old world style sauvignon blanc with ample wet stone-minerality to keep the purists smiling. An oft-overlooked style but incredibly versatile is the off-dry 2006 DOMAINE SYLVAIN GAUDRON VOUVRAY DEMI-SEC AC Vouvray 88pts $15.95 ***; there’s enough riveting acidity to make this finish almost dry, yet make a perfect pairing with sweet-tender lobster flesh or seared scallops. Also worth a look is the bright 2008 JEAN-MICHEL SORBE REUILLY AC 88pts $17.95 **1/2, another sauvignon blanc from the lesser known, ‘satellite’ AOC of Reuilly.

Outside of the features, you’ll find my usual top ten smart buys. Worth a special mention is the2005 MORGADO DE SILGUEIROS DOC Dão 87pts $11.95 ***. Despite the modest price tag, this example from the mountainous Dão region of central Portugal offers all that one could hope for in entry-level red. It’s juicy, firm, fruity, flavourful and sheer fun to drink – a perfect summer BBQ/house wine to buy by the case.

Click on the following to see my:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Feature Wines at a Glance: Argentina
Feature Wines at a Glance: Loire Valley
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

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Lawrason’s Take: Burgundy, Bordeaux, Pinks, California Chardonnays and more from Vintages May 15 release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Ontario chardonnay and pinot noir has me looking at Burgundy through a different lens recently. For years I considered Burgundy a world onto itself – unique, distinctive and distinguished. Now I am looking at it as yet another cool climate site for these two grapes, which has helped me better understand its strengths and foibles.  The sour red fruit (cranberry, currant, sour cherry) flavour profiles of Ontario and Burgundy pinot noir are often remarkably similar. Chardonnay is often cool apple-pear in both places. Burgundy’s strength, compared to Ontario, is a more frequent expression of a certain finesse and restraint that Ontario still needs to grow into in terms of winemaking.  But Burgundy chokes in the value department. There are some good but really not very notable wines selling for $25; and up at $50 there should be more wines scoring low to mid 90s.  Vintages selections are generally good, and nicely representative of their appellations for those wanting to some schooling; but I can’t see many people flocking to snap up the great buys – there really aren’t any!

Château Hauchat 2006
This release provides a good opportunity to study Bordeaux’ 2006 vintage. Not the vaunted classified growths, but the petits chateaux that are much more affordable. It is considered a very good but uneven vintage with a hot July, a cooler August and a rainy end of September – hardly a balanced weather pattern.  A long balanced growing season in cool climates makes long, balanced wines. I found the aromatics of all the wines to be quite fine with currant-berry fruit nicely framed with cedar and herbs, and they hit the palate with some elegance.  But on the finish the finesse was shredded by green tannin. Nor did they have the concentration of fruit to get past the bitterness. Sure, ageing will help, but I don’t think some of these wines will ever be truly balanced.  I had given up looking for something I would actually buy until I came across the cheapest and liveliest and best balanced of the group: Chateau Hauchat 2006 from Fronsac at a tidy $14.95.  It is a property from the 9th generation Vignoble Jean-Bernard Saby, which also owns Ch Saint Andre-Corbin and Ch Roziers, both frequently available at Vintages.

Jackson Triggs Proprietors' Grand Reserve Merlot 2007Staying with Bordeaux, last week I had a rare chance to taste Chateau Margaux again, including the 2006 Pavillon Rouge, which is the second wine of Bordeaux’ famous 1st Growth.  A lovely wine indeed, and as I put it to my nose I immediately recognized the cool climate cab-merlot aromatics we find in Ontario examples. Niagara almost never achieves Margaux-like finesse, tenderness and depth, but some are not that far away stylistically.  Two wines on this release demonstrate Ontario’s improvements in this area, including the lovely, nicely ripe and elegant Jackson-Triggs 2007 Grand Reserve Merlot. Winemaker Marco Picoli continues to do some fine work with the upper end Grand Reserve and Delaine labels.   The well-priced, charming Vineland Estates 2007 Merlot and more high strung, complex Vineland 2007 Elevation Cabernet are worth consideration as well.

Domaine Lafage Parfum Des Vignes Rosé 2009This release is awash in a pink tide, from lands near and far. I will likely dip into it for personal summer sipping because I am becoming a real fan of dry rosé.  Sometimes all those crisp summer whites are just too bright and lively, and the soul just wants something more mellow without getting into heavy red.  I like to cook on the BBQ with rosé, then pull out the big oaky whites or plummy reds when dinner is served, depending on what’s on the grill.  My favourite this release is called Parfum des Vignes Rose from a terrific Roussillon producer called Domaine Lafage, whose white wine is coming soon to the LCBO.  Ontario rosé is well represented with very good examples from Malivoire,  Fielding and Southbrook.

Navarro Correas Colección Privada Chardonnay 2008Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2007I was working through the line-up of California chardonnays and poured myself Glass Mountain, or so I thought.  I have not been a big fan of this inexpensive brand, but was nicely surprised by the complexity, depth and creaminess it was expressing for $13.95. I soon realized I had mistakenly poured the Navarro Correas 2008 Chardonnay from Argentina (the bottles were beside each other). So imagine my delight when I discovered its price was also $13.95.  When I did pour the Glass Mountain it was okay but as unremarkable as I had remembered; as is the Cakebread Reserve 2006, at least when you factor in the $80 price tag.  However, most of the California chardonnays are very good indeed, with the solid, complex Rodney Strong 2007 stealing the spotlight at just under $20. California value is starting to improve.

Barolo Serralunga D'alba 2005Best new idea in the is release is a 500ml bottle of Fontanafredda 2005 Barolo Serralunga d’Alba, priced at $27.95.  It makes total sense to have expensive wines in smaller 2-3 person bottles. It is more affordable to the curious, and expands the audience for fine wine. As well Barolo can often be a tougher wine, and this allows it to be doled out in smaller parcels where you can tuck it into a late course with meats or cheeses, and have other wines earlier in the meal.  And heck, this is also a good Barolo with all the right complexity  and balance. I did a wonderful Barolo tasting as a fundraiser for Providence Health Care last week – including heavyweights Gaja, Pio Cesare and Borgogno – and this Fontanafredda would not have been lost in the crowd.

Manga Del Brujo 2007Spain continues to surprise and excite, but it’s usually the new appellations or DOCs that are most interesting. For some reason I am finding the huge regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero in a bit of a time warp, where they are trying to be trendy and modern but are still relying on long oak ageing and classicism as their signature. The best do it very well, but some less expensive wines that seek to emulate are just boring. Meanwhile appellations from the east side of the country – Priorat, Montsant, Jumilla, and Calatayud – are defined by exuberant fruitiness. Love the fruit richness and depth of Manga del Brujo 2007, a five-grape blend by British MW winemaker Norrel Roberston.

Cono Sur Visión Pinot Noir 2008For years now Cono Sur’s general list Pinot Noir has always shown well in blind pinot tasting, and when its $10 price is revealed it scoops the best value kudos.  Most pinot fans dismiss Chile, but Cono Sur is dead serious about this grape, having the largest pinot acreage and some of the oldest vines in the country. They now also have a separate winery designed to do pinot noir only, that gives them every avenue to deal with this finicky grape that they might possibly need.  And the pinot is getting better and better.  On this release the Cono Sur 2008 Visión Pinot Noir is a fine example, and a very affordable exploration at only $15.95.  You might want to buy more than one while it lasts.

I am off to Bordeaux and Spain for ten days hosting couples from across Canada who bought a fabulous wine tour at Gold Medal Plates events last fall to raise money for our Canadian athletes.  Special guests athletes include Jennifer Heil and Chandra Crawford, with musicians Barney Bentall and Anne Lindsay who will doing some impromptu performances along the way. I haven’t been to Bordeaux in some time; and I am really looking forward to barrel sampling the 2009s, which Chateau Margaux director Paul Pontallier has called “the most incredible vintage of my career”. He started at Margaux in 1983.  I will report back…

See all my reviews for the May 15th release here.

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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On a desert Island Called Piedmont: Tasting with some Langa Greats – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

Don’t ever ask a serious wine lover what their favorite wine is. It drives them mad. It exposes you as a neophyte, a philistine, a savage. It gets you disinvited to the next dinner party. You might as well go on and ask if wine is made from grapes. You see, true wine lovers are promiscuous. They’re poly-amorous. They don’t play favorites. (Isn’t it enough to sign up forever with one cell phone provider, one insurance company, one bank manager, one spouse?) To expect anyone who’s mesmerized by the fantastic diversity of today’s wine panorama to have an on-going monogamous relationship with a brand of wine is as unlikely as finding a poet satisfied with a single verse, or a culinary genius sated by the same sandwich day after day. To drink the same “favorite” wine, night after night, week after week, year after year would lead to a terminal case of boredom, no matter how good the wine.

Yet the question is still asked, and damned if I can’t come up with an answer. If I were to be trapped on a dessert island, I’d fervently wish that island to be in the imaginary sea of northwestern Italy. Piedmont to be more precise, and the Langhe Hills around the town of Alba to get really geographically specific. This glorious little corner of the vinous world, cradled by gently sloping hills that run like the slender fingers of a piano player, within viewing distance on a crisp day of the majestic snow-capped Alps, is home to some of the world’s most astounding, most compelling most memorable wines.

I suppose that I have a history with the region that colours my view. It was here that I had my first “serious” wine visit, back in the early nineties. By sheer chance, luck, serendipity, with pack on my back and a random list of wine producers before me in a brochure furnished by the Alba tourism bureau, I slotted my lira into the payphone and dialed a foreign number as though I were pulling the lever on a slot machine. The name listed next to the number was that of a certain Signore Bartolo Mascarello, completely unknown to me, as were the rest of the names in the long list I had at hand. As it turned out, said Signore Mascarello was (past tense, he sadly passed away several years ago) one of the last great traditionalists in one of the most storied wine regions in one the most ancient wine producing lands on earth. You can’t get much more lucky than that.

To my surprise, he answered the phone and agreed to welcome me for a visit. But he wasn’t particularly warm or welcoming. In retrospect, he seemed totally amused or rather bemused by this young man from Canada with his broken Italian and next to no wine knowledge. But he indulged my fantasy. We sat in his dusty, antidiluvian office that seemed more like the site of an archeological dig than the nerve center of a modern winery. Me awkward, he calm, as though he’d seen it all before and was simply waiting for me to realize it. It was not in a condescending way, no; he was rather like a grandfather seeing his grandson grappling with the pangs of the first unrequited love: serene, understanding, aware that nothing but time can remedy the situation. And he had patience. Time stood still. He could have been a Zen master, immovable, unencumbered by the terror of silence as I was. We sat for what seemed like an interminable period. Paralyzed by the fear of knowing I might be caught out as a wine charlatan, I made the truth even more plain then it already was by managing to stumble out a series of the silliest questions imaginable. I topped it off with an all-time classic question of the obvious that still makes me shake my head in dismay to this day: “Signore Mascarello, have you been making wine for a long time?” The venerable man, then in his 70s I guess, simply smiled, and I sank further into the old, hard wooden chair opposite his imposing desk, gazing at the dust and cobwebs that had been there for centuries.

I hadn’t come for conversation, obviously. What could I have possibly offered to this legend of the Langhe? I was simply thirsty, eager to taste a cool glass of wine poured straight from the vat, made from those preciously tended vineyards covering the hillsides all around, from which I was certain something special must come. But there was no hurry. Wine, like anything worthwhile, takes time. A lifetime later signore Mascarello introduced me to his daughter, who finally led me into the old cellar filled with towering wooden vats from another era. We tasted the wines from those natty old vats, and I was hooked for life.

Fast forward to another time, another place. I’ve since tasted a few wines or twenty thousand, traveled to most winemaking regions of the world, been dazzled by the sparkle, the dedication, the fanatical devotion to fermented grape juice displayed by countless farmers and poets and philosophers who make their living from it, and yet I still come back to Piedmont for shelter when the storm comes.

What makes these wines so special is an unmistakable sense of place. It’s not just fruit or acids or tannins; the wines of Piedmont taste like they come from Piedmont. Like a signature, they can’t be duplicated. Flowery white arneis from the Roero Hills is a nice introduction, never too serious, always enjoyable. But reds are the region’s pride. There’s dolcetto, the plump little grape that ripens earliest and gives deeply fruity, succulent wines. Then there’s barbera, dismissed in the past as a simple carafe wine though since discovered to be capable of greatness. It’s vibrantly juicy, red berry-flavoured, with little-to-no tannins that give it an infinitely drinkable quality. Small barriques add structure, sheen and a sweet cacao flavour that has made it into a more “serious” wine.

These two grapes alone would be enough to put the Piedmont on the map of great wine regions. Yet as though just to make absolutely certain, natural selection has given the Langhe Hills another native treasure that overshadows all else: nebbiolo. Nebbiolo can make wines of astounding depth, breathtaking complexity, legendary longevity. It’s not an easy grape and nor is the wine. Like Signore Mascarello, it demands time and patience. At first it’s austere, reserved, even difficult, and one wonders what all of the fuss is about. But in time, beyond the impenetrability of youth, once the requisite waiting period in the awkward silence of a cellar has been fulfilled, only then does it reveal layer upon fascinating layer of flavour and texture that make one wonder how it’s all possible. I’m happy that it’s not an easy wine. Nothing worthwhile ever is.

In the past month, between Toronto and Verona, I was able to get my Piedmont fix from a handful of the region’s great interpreters. The styles of these more modern-leaning producers couldn’t be further from those first few drops of Mascarello Barolo, to be sure, but the spirit of the Langhe Hills isn’t so dogmatic, so restrictive. Those hills allow for a magical myriad of idioms, like the Latin languages that are all distinct but derive unmistakably from the same origin.

Chiara Boschis (E. Pira & Figli)

The vivacious Chiara Boschis has infectious energy and enthusiasm. Her wines display the same vibrancy and fantastic tension, refined by a feminine touch. In the last few years she has been reducing the amount of new wood used in the cellar, from 100% in the ‘90s and early 2000s to more moderate levels (approaching 50% for the Via Nuova Barolo in 2009), a welcome change in my view. The purchase of a fully south-facing 4ha parcel of vines in Monforte d’Alba called Conterni (1 ha each of dolcetto and barbera as well as 2 ha of nebbiolo for Barolo) will add to her limited production and provide the opportunity to produce another Barolo cru. The grapes from this parcel were formerly sold to Luciano Sandrone for his Barolo Le Vigne vineyard blend, so you can be sure that the vines were well tended to and yield top quality fruit. Boschis is currently in the process of selecting an agent for Canada, with plenty of suitors lining up for the privilege.

2009 Az. Agr. E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis Dolcetto d’Alba Piedmont, Italy 88

A clean, open, fragrant version of dolcetto here, with bright fruit flavours and very vibrant, elegant and fresh appeal. It’s an infinitely drinkable style that demands little but rewards handsomely. Drink 2010-2014.

2008 Az. Agr. E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis Barbera d’Alba Piedmont, Italy 88

Recently bottled and somewhat closed currently, but with time opens to show the usual lightness of structure, high acid, and  red fruit flavours of barbera. There’s little/no wood treatment – just a hint of vanilla and gently resinous spice. Needs another year I’d say to move into the groove.

2005 Az. Agr. E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis Barolo Via Nuova Piedmont, Italy 91

The Via Nuova Barolo is made from a sub-plot of the Terlo cru, to the south of Barolo town at 300-350m elevation. The vineyard is part south and part southeast facing, though cooler than Cannubi and harvested later on average, with very low yields. The nose is very perfumed, open and delicate, toute en finesse, in the sweet red cherry and wild strawberry spectrum. The palate is fresh yet has an expansive, mouth filling richness. Wood is marked, more marked than the Cannubi, with some astringence on the finish. Needs 3-5 years to come together. 4,000 bottles produced.

2005 Az. Agr. E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi Piedmont, Italy 96

Here’s an absolute cracker of a Barolo, one of the best I’ve tasted and a highlight of Vinitaly to be sure. This is classic, elegant Cannubi: licorice, faded flowers – intense but still refined, more savoury that fruity, with a long, long finish. In sum, a sensual, beautiful, more delicate vintage, that has been underestimated by many, and should last 10-15 years without trouble. I hate to draw vulgar comparisons, but it’s like fine Charmes Chambertin from a top producer. 8000 bottles produced. Best 2012-2020.

2006 Az. Agr. E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi Piedmont, Italy 93

The 2006 Cannubi from Boschis is a departure from her usual ultra-feminine, finessed style. It shows significant ripeness and power, and an almost new world-style concentration that is vintage-driven. Tannins are super ripe, alcohol is high, finish is long and chest warming. All in all, there’s less elegance and more sheer power here than the previous vintage (2005). In time, this will settle no doubt, but patience required. Best 2013-2025.

2006 Az. Agr. E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis Barolo Via Nuova Piedmont, Italy 94

An large step ahead of the Via Nuova 2005, the 2006 shows much better oak integration (only 80% new wood vs. 100% in 2005). The fruit is ripe and sweet, spice is exotic, tannins are firm but ripe, and the finish is long. Really fine wine here, which shows the potential for this cru to really shine as the vines age and the hand in the winery is a little more tender and loving. Best 2012-2020.

La Spinetta (Giorgio Rivetti)

Contact: John Turco <>

Giorgio Rivetti describes himself as a farmer. Well, he’s a pretty polished and educated farmer, even if he still has trouble connecting his phone to his car via Bluetooth. He understands the world of wine and travels regularly to support his markets. His tireless efforts on both the production side and the marketing side have paid off handsomely: Rivetti enjoys something of a cult-like following on international markets.  and in some ways regrets the high prices his wines fetch around the world. To address the issue of greedy middlemen, he has started an import and distribution business in the US.

2005 La Spinetta Barolo Campé $195.00 96

The 2005 Barolo Campé (a single vineyard site monopoly of La Spinetta) is a wine of superb elegance and concentration, with very refined, silky tannins and ripe, juicy acids. The nose is high toned, with floral, dried rose petals and violets, sweet red fruit, but the volatily is in check. This has the aromatics of the La Morra and Barolo side of the appellation, with the power of Monforte and Serralunga. Sleek, like a runway model, and the finish goes on and on. A great example from this cooler, more elegantly style vintage. Best 2012-2025.

2006 La Spinetta Barbaresco Valeirano  $179.95 95

The nose is surprisingly open and fragrant at the moment, with sweet, ripe nebbiolo fruit, exotic spice and floral notes. But the palate is still firm, tight, very concentrated and shows loads of power; wood is still evident. This is one of the classy modern styles wines. Long, long finish. Tannins will need 5-7 years to soften I suspect, but there is more than enough fruit and extract to see this through to the mid 2020s without problem. Should be a classic. Best 2015-2025.

2005 La Spinetta Barbera d’Alba Gallina $67.95 93

There’s a lost, little 2 hectare parcel of ancient barbera vines in the Barbaresco vineyard of Gallina, which is the origin of this ultra concentrated and complex example. The density and richness on the palate are quite extraordinary, yet the wine remains refined and elegant despite masses of extract and evident minerality. Tannins are still firm and grippy, making this a highly age worthy wine. Top notch. Best 2010-2020.

2005 La Spinetta Pin Monferrato Rosso $67.95 93

A blend of nebbiolo and barbera, named after Giorgio Rivetti’s father, nicknamed “Pin”. The nebbiolo part of the blend is from the Gallina, Starderi and Valeirano vineyards, and the barbera is from the 85 years old Bionzo Barbera d’Asti Superiore vines. Wonderfully fragrant and complex on the nose. The palate is fullish and succulent, with firm but not aggressive tannins, acid is lively and juicy, finish is long. This is top class wine, and fair value to be sure.

2009 La Spinetta Bricco Quaglia $27.95 90

Year in and year out one of the top Moscato d’Asti’s on the market, this version has the expected wonderful fragrance and perfume of muscat, but the 45 year old vines deliver considerable minerality and freshness (acidity), balancing the sweetness and making this particularly classy. There’s a price premium, but this is super refined and worth the extra.

2007 La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Ca’ di Pian $39.95 90

The vines are about 30 years old in this vineyard now, approaching 30 hectares in size. Smooth, richly flavoured and textured, with evident ripeness and class, this barbera sits comfortably in the modern style category, certainly finessed and refined yet with considerable depth and length. A fine wine.

2007 Il Nero di Casanova Toscana Sangiovese $27.95 89

The first vintage for sangiovese in purezza from Giorgio Rivetti’s (La Spinetta) Casanova estate in Tuscany. The nose is clean, fresh and clearly very ripe, with fruit tending to blueberry, with well integrated wood. The palate is silky smooth in the La Spinetta style, with plenty of finesse and elegance, and approachability, without sacrificing character and depth. Lingering finish. Tasted March 2010.

Luciano Sandrone

Contact: Terry Milne <>

When I asked Luciano Sandrone what had changed recently, the answer was a straightforward “not much”. Well, why change what is working. Sandrone developed his pioneering style as early as the 1990 vintage, and through some fine tuning such as moving to 500l tonneau exclusively, has refined his expressions to reach the highest levels in the region. Despite all of the international success he’s enjoyed, Sandrone remains an eminently humble winegrower, approachable, affable, as honest and forthright as the wines he produces. In short, he’s a model for all others to follow.

Regarding the two Barolo, both the Cannubi (single cru) and the Le Vigne (blend of 4 crus) are fermented with natural yeast; vinification proceeds in identical fashion with minimum intervention. Both are aged in 500l tonneau; there are no barriques any longer chez Sandrone. There is not meant to be a hierarchy between these two: both are intended to be top wines, but reflect the natural differences in expression between a more “traditional” approach of blending multiple vineyard sites versus the more modern tack of bottling the wine of a single cru. Don’t get your hopes up about obtaining any of these wines, they are tightly allocated.

2009 Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba Piedmont, Italy $22.95 87-88

This tank sample is not yet bottled and shows a little reduction, but with air sweet notes emerge such as violets and ripe black fruit. This is the only wine in the Sandrone range that is filtered since it is bottle so young. The tannins here are smooth and soft, well managed, with vibrant acidity. Simple but very tasty. Tasted April 2010.

2008 Luciano Sandrone Barbera d’Alba Piedmont, Italy $26.95 89-90

To be released in September 2010. 7 different parcels are kept separate during vinification, after which the best parts are blended and aged in 500L tonneau, with about 25% new wood. And the wood is marked at this stage, but knowing how this wine evolves, it will digest it soon enough. Acid is typically juicy and firm, tannins very moderate (virtually all wood tannins), long finish. A solid wine from a generally cooler vintage. Tasted April 2010.

2008 Luciano Sandrone Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore Piedmont, Italy $46.95 91

18-20k bottles are made yearly from this amphitheatre-shaped cru in the Roero zone. It’s aged in 2 and 3 year old barrels. Light spicy, red fruit dominated, lots of old wood spice, pomegranate, apple, red currant. The palate is medium bodied, firm, tightly wound, peppery and herbal, typical for the vintage and a little fresher than either the 2007 or likely the 2009. Tasted April 2010.

2006 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis Piedmont, Italy $145 94-96

The Cannubi is a little less expressive on the nose at the moment, though this is typical for the early stages of development. The palate is delicate but firm, full of power and finesse. Classic black licorice notes come out with much aeration, but this needs another 3-5 years minimum to come around. This will no doubt be a wine of great longevity and class. Tasted April 2010.

2006 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne Piedmont, Italy $145 94-96

Le Vigne, in contrast to the Cannubi today is wonderfully open, fragrant and ripe. The palate however is very firm and structured, with big chewy, ripe tannins, reflective of the Monforte parcel. Flavours tend to slightly overripe black cherries with some resinous notes on the palate. All in all a powerful, big and burly wine, that will surely need 7-10 years to come around. Tasted April 2010.

Andrea Sottimano

The young Andrea Sottimano has been touted as a winegrower to watch. Well, it’s time to stop watching and start tasting. This is a new reference point for elegant, modern style wines with more than a passing resemblance to top notch Burgundy, an association I don’t think Sottimano would mind too much. He spends a great deal of time in this French spiritual counterpart of Piedmont, and counts many of Burgundy’s most revered producers as friends. Across the range of outstanding Barbarescos, Sottimano practices what he calls an “all natural” vinification: wild yeast, no fining, filtration, with just 20% new wood. He sends samples of each wine to François Frères in Burgundy, who then custom-coopers barrels for him to bring out the best characteristics of each cru.

2008 Sottimano Barbera d’Alba Pairolero Piedmont, Italy 90

The nose of the 2008 barbera from the Paiolero vineyard is open, vibrant, with bright red cherry fruit and spice. The palate is likewise lively, high acid, uncompromising, with light but firm tannins. Long finish. Needs another couple of years. Serious wine.

2008 Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo Piedmont, Italy $33 91

This Langhe Nebbiolo is in fact made from young vines in the Basarín vineyard, a cru within the Barbaresco denomination; they are between 10-15 years old. The nose is somewhat closed at the moment, but the palate is firm and full of flavour. A classic vintage – well structured with power and richness. Top notch Langhe Nebbiolo and great value to be sure. Best 2012-2018.  Tasted April 2010.

2007 Sottimano Barbaresco Fausoni Piedmont, Italy $33 92

All of the cru Barbarescos undergo a 20-25 days fermentation, and are then racked and put into barrels, of which 20% are new. They then sit one year or so on the fine lees without sulfur and malolactic happens naturally, at its own pace. The wine is then racked into old barrels for another year before bottling. The Fausoni vineyard has clay limestone soils with a touch of sand. About 35 year old vines. Supremely elegant and delicate yet with power, lots of clay-minerality. Linear, a feminine cru. Tasted April 2010.

2006 Sottimano Barbaresco Fausoni Piedmont, Italy $80 93

The 2006 is super firm and tight, closed up, a classic vintage that will require a decade or more. Wet clay, mineral. Serious.

2007 Sottimano Barbaresco Currà Piedmont, Italy $80 93

More clay in the Currà vineyard gives a wine with additional fruit and power, yet it’s still closed up for now as would be expected. The palate is more ample, fuller, riper, a bit more generous than the average, with long finish.  Best 2012-2020.

2007 Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà Piedmont, Italy $80 95

The Cottà is showing very expressively here today, with savoury, resinous herb notes like bay and rosemary, alongside vibrant red fruit. The palate is fullish, ample, with great depth and power, and a very long peppery finish. Top notch. Best 2012-2020.

2007 Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré Piedmont, Italy $80 96

The Pajoré cru sits at 420 meters elevation; there’s a higher limestone content in the soil relative to Sottimano’s other vineyards, and the vines are quite old at 45+ years of age. The nose is super elegant with beguiling floral-violet notes, exotic curry spice and fresh tobacco. “A pure, classic, mineral Barbaresco”. There’s a linearity of form and purity of aroma that sets this wine apart. Finesse and elegance reign supreme. Long, long finish. Outstanding. Best 2012-2022.

2005 Sottimano Barbaresco Riserva Piedmont, Italy $120 96

Just 1,800 bottles are made of this rare riserva, and only in certain vintages when there’s no risk of diminishing the quality of the single cru bottlings. It comes from the oldest vines (50+ years) in the Cottà and Pajoré crus, and is harvested later than the vines destined for the single vineyard bottlings. It macerates for 25 days on the skins during fermentation, then spends two years on the lees without sulphur or racking to invoke a more traditional expression. The nose is classic Barbaresco: fragrant, elegant, with decidedly savoury, herbal- anchovy and soy notes; and the palate delivers high tradition, with very firm, unyielding tannins and tight acids that will need another 8-10 years in the cellar to become fun to drink. It should easily hold 25+ in a good cellar. Tasted April 2010.

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May 15th Vintages Preview – Stunning Value Priorat, Candy floss Rosés and Where for Art Thou, Burgundy? – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

This week, Vintages shines the spotlight on the whites and reds of Burgundy as well as rosés from across the globe.Mas Igneus Barranc Dels Closos 2006
My number one smart buy this week is an uncommonly good and inexpensive wine from one of Spain’s more ‘boutique’ (read: expensive) appellations, Priorat. This small little enclave in the Catalonian Hills southwest of Barcelona has been making wine for centuries, but remained virtually unknown outside the region until a group of young mavericks led by Alvaro Palacios arrived in the late 1980s. The region and its wealth of old vines was transformed in no time into the hottest new wine region in all of Spain. Today, for example, Palacios’ top Priorat called l’Ermita sells for over $700 bottle. So imagine my delight when I came across the 2006 MAS IGNEUS BARRANC DELS CLOSOS Vinyes de Coster, DOCa Priorat $19.95 92pts ***. At under $20, this wine packs an immense wallop of flavour that is the equal of wines at 2 or 3 times this price, sometimes even more. Be forewarned, however. This is not delicate sipping wine. At 15%, this is seriously ripe and concentrated juice. Though it’s not just about alcohol and raisins. This wine also has a distinct mineral signature, derived from the poor schistous-slate soils of the appellation called ‘licorella’ locally. It’s well worth checking out.

C.J. Pask Gimblett Road Syrah 2007Other interesting buys this week include a very elegant and finely-etched New Zealand Syrah: 2007 C.J. PASK GIMBLETT ROAD SYRAH Hawkes Bay, North Island $18.95 90pts ***, a rich and satisfying Rhône blend from California: 2007 CLINE CELLARS CASHMERE, California $18.95 89pts ***, and a bright and fresh Portuguese “green” wine: 2009 MURALHAS DE MONÇÃO VINHO VERDE DOC, Sub-Região de Monção e Melgaço $13.95 87pts ***.

And now, regarding the features: I wish there were something more exciting to say about this motley collection of wines, but the truth is that it is a rather uninteresting group. While there are a few solid wines from Burgundy, notably my top three from the large houses of William Fèvre (2007 Chablis 1er Cru), Maison Champy (2007 Pommard) and Bouchard Père et Fils (Savigny-lès-Beaunes Les Lavières 1er cru), it is overall a disappointing collection.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy on a Burgundian desert Island, but as usual for the Vintages Burgundy feature, the top producers, especially the small domaines, are notable for their absence in what is supposed to be a focus on the region’s representative wines. Admittedly, most of the best have little interest in dealing with the LCBO. I suppose you too would think twice about selling wine to Ontario and its internationally feared state monopoly. Imagine this business scenario: First, you hold back an allocation for your Ontario agent in the hopes of getting an order. Then comes the expensive shipping of samples for evaluation if the initial tender is accepted. Then you’ll wait months for the order to be confirmed, then a few more months for the order to picked up, then a couple more months for actual shipping. Then you’ll pay $125 per wine type for the mandatory LCBO lab fees (and risk the entire shipment being rejected and returned at your expense, or simply destroyed). And then, you’ll patiently wait another few months for your payment, that’s if, of course, if the shipment sells well. If it doesn’t, the LCBO might arbitrarily put it on sale without telling you or the agent and deduct the difference from your payment. And don’t forget, all the while, you have buyers lining up at your cellar door, cash in hand, to get their allocation. What would you do?

On the other hand, large producers with volumes of commercial wine to sell scramble to get an audience with the LCBO. Nothing could be easier then having one large customer take a whacking shipment of your everyday plonk in one go. And, you have a ‘state guarantee’ on your payment! It’s not like the LCBO is going bankrupt anytime soon or will disappear into the shadows like some shady Shanghai dealer.

No wonder we see so much average wine. Take the rosé feature. It would be challenging to assemble a more boring collection of rosés from around the world. Chapeau bas, a remarkable achievement. It will no doubt leave most of Ontario believing that rosé is a mere afterthought of red wine making, something that accidently happens on the side, and well, you have do something with it and maybe recuperate a few pennies here and there. Considering the truly delicious, versatile, characterful rosés that are produced around the world on purpose, this is an embarrassing selection. I understand that few consumers take rosé seriously, but it’s no wonder, given what they’ve been exposed too. How many times have I heard producers defending their sweet, candy-floss flavoured, rosés saying: “That’s what consumer’s expect?” Well, give us the choice of quality I say.

Muga Rosé 2009There are at least some inexpensive wines that will make for perfectly fine, thoughtless backyard sipping. My top value pick was the 2009 MUGA ROSÉ DOCa Rioja $12.95 87pts ***, a simple, dry, zesty and tasty Spanish pink. Top marks went to two classic rosé-producing areas in southern France, Côtes de Provence (2009 CHÂTEAU LA TOUR DE L’ÉVÊQUE ROSÉ Vendanges Manuelles $18.95 88pts **), and Tavel in the Southern Rhône Valley (2009 CHÂTEAU D’AQUERIA ROSÉ TAVEL AC $18.95 88pts **). While these two latter wines are quite good, they’re still a long way from the premier league.

Click on the following to see my:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Feature Wines at a Glance: Burgundy
Feature Wines at a Glance: Rose
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

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Brancaia: Latest Releases and a Vertical Tasting of Il Blu from 1994-2007 – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

Last week Martin Kronenberg was in town to host a  tasting of recent releases highlighted by a 14 vintage tasting of Il Blu, the flagship wine from the Brancaia Estate he founded in 1981. The first vintage of Il Blu was 1988, and every vintage since 1994 has been awarded to highly regarded “tre bicchieri” award from Italy’s Gambero Rosso wine Guide. From the outset, the stylistic goal of Il Blu was “elegance, density and complexity” according to Kronenberg.  “We wanted to give a very strong identity for Il Blu, to make it in a consistent style every year.” For this reason the blend has remained virtually unchanged since the beginning. Only once, after Kronenberg’s wife Barbara took over winemaking duties in 1998, was the mix tweaked to favour more elegance.  Up until 1998, the wine consisted of 55% sangiovese, 40% merlot and 5% cabernet sauvignon; from 1999 on, sangiovese was lowered to 50% in favour of an additional 5% merlot. “If you change the blend every year, you change the wine”. The vines are between 15 and 20 years old on average at present.

Bianca Il BluNeither has the barrel regime changed: 18-20 months in barriques, of which about 1/3 are new. The grapes are sourced from Brancaia’s 2 estates in the Chianti Classico district in the communes of Castellina and Radda in Chianti. Consultant Carlo Ferrini oversees the entire operation. It’s a different approach to be sure: attempting to impose a style on the wine rather than letting the vintage conditions show through. While many winegrowers accept they necessity of working to the specs of each year, Kronenburg prefers the comfort of a constant house style. The wines across the 14 vintages are certainly linked by uncommon elegance relative to the world of extracted super Tuscans, though admittedly I found a quite a lot of variation throughout the years. Nature, it seems, can’t be eliminated from the equation. Nevertheless, Il Blu is a fine wine.

In addition to Il Blu, Brancaia makes an excellent Chianti Classico, and since Kronenberg purchased a new property in the ultra-hot Maremma in 1998, another super-Tuscan blend called Illatraia. For my money, Illatraia is the company’s least interesting wine on the value scale. Brancaia’s entry-level wine is called “Tre”, being sourced from the three different estates.

There was much debate as to whether one should taste from oldest to youngest or vice versa; I opted to taste the younger wines first this time around to assess the current releases with a fresh palate.

Imported by Calibrium International

Contact: Ilya Rubin

2008 Brancaia ‘Tre’ IGT Toscana Tuscany, Italy

80% Sangiovese plus cab and merlot, from the three (“tre”) Brancaia estates. Fresh, savoury, red fruit driven, juicy, with noted vanilla wood tones and leafy-herbal character (cooler vintage in Tuscany). Very respectable length. Fine food-friendly wine. Tasted April 2010. 29.95

2007 Brancaia Chianti Classico Tuscany, Italy

This is a really fine, solid effort of Chianti from what I believe will be recognized as a classic vintage in time. Depth and intensity are impressive, with excellent complexity and length. Great spectrum of savoury and fruity flavours. Tasted April 2010.  42.5

2007 Brancaia Illatraia IGT Maremma Toscana Tuscany, Italy

60% Cabernet, 30% Sangiovese and 10% Petit Verdot. A soft, ripe, forwardly fruity, juicy and easily drinkable style with plenty of immediate appeal. Doesn’t really have the depth, complexity or structure to justify the price in my view, but is certainly pleasurable.  82.5

Brancaia ‘Il Blu’ IGT Toscana Vertical 2007-1994:

2007 The 2007 Il Blu is a wine of evident class and elegance, with sweet ripe fruit that spans the spectrum from red through black and blue berry notes. There’s a fine delicate wood spice and fresh sweet herb nuance that adds another layer of complexity. The palate is fullish but suave and refined, with fine grained tannins, round and voluptuous, a very delicate and feminine wine overall. This is a courageous stance in a world frequently dominated by large scale, over extracted and over-oaked reds. Drink 2012-2025. Tasted April 2010. $89.50 93

2006 The ripeness of the 2006 vintage comes through quite markedly in this wine, with super ripe black and blue fruit, verging on slightly raisined fig/date aromas, alongside higher volatility than in other vintages. The palate is fullish and voluptuous, with evidently plump, ripe tannins, though underlying firmness tightens up the finish. Alcohol is marked and chest warming. A powerful wine to be sure, though it slips out of the mold of elegance common across the rest of the years. Drink 2014-2025. 90

2005 A fragrant, more floral vintage of Il Blu, with the cooler than average growing conditions yielding a wine of slighter body yet more finesse and delicacy than the average. Tannins are fine  grained and light, and acidity is bright. Flavours run more to the red berry spectrum. Lovely savoury-herbal notes emerge on the lingering finish. A wine to be enjoyed in the mid-term, best 2010-2018. Tasted April 2010.  91

2004 The 2004 is a wine of wonderful fragrance that seems to just be hitting its stride. Intense floral aromas and beguiling red and black berry notes, sweet herbal spice, and fully integrated oak characterize the nose. The palate strikes a perfect balance between power and elegance, with firm but ripe tannins tightly wound around fresh acidity, and has one of the longer finishes in the entire vertical. Very classy. This is starting to drink well now, but I suspect it will age gracefully into the mid 2020s. Tasted April 2010.  94

2003 Slightly volatile and raisined aromas, not to mention some mushroom-oxidative notes set this apart from the range. The palate is firm and unyielding, with the tannins still quite hard and a little short on phenolic maturity. Alcohol is high and finish average. Hard to predict if this will ever shift into balance, but if you prefer fruit, best to get to this in the short term. Tasted April 2010.  89

2002 The first bottle shows a touch of TCA, herbal, earthy notes, distinctly out of the Il Blu standard profile. In any case, the palate shows decent, albeit leaner structure, firm dusty tannins and moderate + finish. Judgment deferred in any case. Tasted April 2010.  No score.

2001 A garnet shade and evolved nose indicate that the 2001 Il Blu has moved into the tertiary stage of development, showing advanced maturity. Dried red berry fruit is largely overshadowed by fresh earth, cured meat, tea leaves and dried herbs; there’s no shortage of complexity here. The palate shows wonderfully integrated and silky tannins, just a touch firm on the finish and in need of a savoury, protein based dish to really shine. Mouth-filling amplitude and long finish complete the package. A fine vintage at its prime, though no need to rush either as it should age gracefully and continue to evolve more earthy dried fruit character. Tasted April 2010.  91

2000 Not very expressive on the nose today, though what little aromatics are present are in the soy, earth and dried meat spectrum. The palate really shows much more expression, with elegant, silky tannins, fully ripe and velvety, lovely power-finesse, balance and sweet red berry fruit on the finish. Outstanding length. Decant his, or leave in the cellar for another year or two to bring aromatics and palate into harmony. Tasted April 2010.  92

1999 The 1999 Il Blu is a firm, well-developed and mature expression at this stage of evolution, hitting that perfect pitch between fruit and tertiary evolution, and displaying the elegance and finesse at which the house style is aimed. Great length. Tannins are particularly silky (this was the first year that the percentage of sangiovese was decreased in favour of softer merlot). Drink now or hold to 2015. Tasted April 2010.  93

1998 Fully open, mature and expressive, with sweet red and black berry fruit moving into the dried fruit stage of evolution. Really fine complexity here, including exotic spice and sweet dried herbal notes. The palate is plush and velvety, with tannins nicely integrated though firming and drying up on the finish, owing perhaps to the higher percentage of Sangiovese relative to 1999 and forward. In any case, a fine, complex Tuscan red that is at peak and will hold another half dozen years at least. Tasted April 2010.  93

1997 The 2007 Il Blu lives up to the hype of the vintage, showing fully mature, gorgeous fruit and exotic spice aromas of dazzling aromatic complexity. Plenty of wet clay-like minerality adds another dimension to the complex mix. The palate is generous and mouth-filling, with full but velvety tannins, chest warming alcohol and lingering perfumed finish. A terrifically complete wine that will impress virtually anyone who tastes it. Ready to enjoy or hold short term. Tasted April 2010.  94

1996 A more rustic, old school expression of Il Blu, displaying intriguing dried porcini mushroom, soy sauce, intense black licorice, black tea, dried herbs and other notes axed on the savoury-umami scale. The palate is likewise a little leaner and more tightly wound; this could easily be mistaken for old school Barolo were it not for the slightly less ample-firm tannins common in that region/variety. Finish is moderate plus. Drink now. Tasted April 2010.  89

1995 The 1995 Il Blu shows a marked use of new wood, or at least the vestiges of new wood it seems, with still fresh fruit and full, round, generous texture, Tannins are fully melted and finish is long. Ultimately this doesn’t have the depth and complexity of other vintages of this wine, but it is a sheer pleasure to drink now. Tasted April 2010.  91

1994 1994 is the first vintage of Il Blu to garner the coveted “Tre Bicchieri” from Italy’s Gambero Rosso Wine Guide. It is currently displaying surprising freshness and liveliness, with nicely integrated tannins that still offer a touch of firmness on the finish. Fruit is sweet and fully ripe, with evolved, mature underlying flavours of dry earth, cured meat and dried blood/iron to add an extra dimension of interest. Very good to excellent length. Ultimately without the depth and complexity of later vintages (young vines at this stage?) but still excellent. Tasted April 2010.  92

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008